These days, it feels like every few weeks, someone new is featured in the press or on social media for quitting their job to travel around the world. So often, they cite an utter lack of work-life balance in their previous jobs as the reason for their decision.
While it certainly takes a combination of guts, good faith, and proper planning to pull it off, not everyone has that option. No matter how stressed out your job makes you feel, sometimes you have other responsibilities that you can’t shirk. It may be more practical to find a new job or ask for flexible work arrangements to suit your needs.
That said, knowing how to achieve and (more importantly) sustain a good work-life balance is an essential skill. Regardless of situational factors like whether you work remotely, part-time, full-time, on a contract basis and for which company, work-life balance is key to maintaining your long-term mental and emotional health, and even your productivity.
If you feel like you’ve been on a wild goose chase all this time in chasing work-life balance, here are nine tips for you to (at long last) take hold of it and keep the ball rolling.
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Arguably, the most fundamental pre-requisite for attaining work-life balance is to know if it’s really balance that you need in the first place.
In recent years, “work-life integration” has gained some traction as an alternative to the ever-elusive ideal balance between work and life.
It holds that thanks to 24/7 connectivity, it’s no longer possible to neatly cleave our lives into two separate sections; blending between work and life is a better alternative. The key is to be adept at quickly switching gears between your “work” and “non-work” modes.
Research on which approach is more compelling is conflicting. Google’s People Analytics team found that those who practiced balance (“segmentors”) were happier than the “integrators.” On the other hand, an academic study found that it was more important for there to be congruence between an individual’s preference and his actual experience at work.
Simply put, it comes down to your own viewpoint and the nature of your work. For example, work-life integration might serve social media content creators, better served than HR professionals since social media, by default, never stops running.
If you want to have a sustainable way of maintaining work-life balance, you need to understand what your goals and priorities are at any one point. These may or may not change over time, but even if they stay constant, keeping sight of them helps you understand how to find a balance that works for you.
When you know what you want to achieve and how you’re going to achieve it, it becomes easier to decide the things that are non-negotiable for you and the things that you’re willing to give up.
If your goal at this stage of your life is to build up your career, your understanding of work-life balance will be geared towards self-development. You might be more willing to put in overtime, while your non-work endeavours are likelier to be centred around growth, like having a passion project or picking up a sport.
Alternatively, if you have a family of your own, your understanding of work-life balance revolves around being available for your children and spouse. Clocking off work on time is non-negotiable because you need to pick your children up from daycare. Spending quality time with your family is also likelier to take the bulk of your time outside of work.
While these are hypothetical situations, the point is this; if you want to fill up your time in a balanced way, need to be clear about:
Being perfectionistic might sound like a good thing, but it’s also very detrimental to your well-being. Most people associate perfectionists with over-achievers, yet it also manifests in counterproductive behaviours like self-sabotage and procrastination.
The same is true for work-life balance. Research has shown that people who constantly chase happiness are less likely to feel happy compared to those who don’t.
Clearly, the point is not that happiness is unattainable; it’s that it’s our expectations for what it should look like that are detrimental. Being perfectionistic can make work-life balance much harder because:
A huge chunk of work-life balance depends on the ability to be present in the moment. That entails knowing when and how to unplug as well as enjoying the now. Whether or not your schedule reflects a good work-life balance, if you can’t be fully mentally present in all your activities, you won’t achieve it.